COUNTING THE YEARS MAKES YOU OLD – CURIOSITY KEEPS YOU YOUNG
As I was channel zapping recently I came across the blind auditions of The Voice of Germany and watched them, spellbound by the performance of one of the contestants. The singer was called Ludmilla Larusso, and hadn’t chosen a pop song but an opera aria, Nessun Dorma by Giaccomo Puccini and what she made of it was truly impressive. That by itself should have been extraordinary enough. But when she told us that she only discovered her vocal talent and began singing when she was well over the age of 40, I was really bowled over. And I was also extremely pleased because for me this was a marvellous illustration of one of my principles of life – that it’s never too late to embark on something new.
When is a person young? When is a person old?
Ludmilla Larusso, who by now is over 50, appeared youthful as she stood on the stage and sang. How come? It was her vibrant personality, her voice but above all else the tangible joy and passion she put into what she was doing. Compared to her many another candidate seemed truly “aged” even though several decades younger than she was. How can this be?
For me age is much more than just the sum total of the number of years you’ve been living. The question of age has a lot more to do with the question of what mental attitude you hold. And it’s this outlook compounded of curiosity and sheer zest for life and the knowledge that it’s never too late to make new discoveries that creates the energy that makes people young – whether they’re 15 or 50.
But what about the hard facts of biology, you might quite rightly object. Sure, they also play a part, and with creeping age there are many things that you can’t do as well and easily as when you were 20 or 30. Fortunately, however, we humans are also individuals and as such capable of encountering hard biology with a mental attitude which means that our lives are not necessarily over and done with when we reach 50 or 70.
An invitation to curiosity
Some people – even though still young in years – have already planned out their whole lives through to retirement and reject everything that doesn’t fit into their plan. Now you might think that this shows great purpose and is a perfectly sensible thing to do and shouldn’t be criticised.
To avoid any misunderstanding let me say that I am not criticising it. Everybody can and should live as they see fit in a way that makes them content as long as they do not hurt other people. And yet I think that this is a road which if followed can deprive us of a few wonderful opportunities which make life eventful and full of surprises. What otherwise remains is often enough just the surprises with which life confronts us and to which we often react helplessly when they torpedo all our carefully laid plans.
For me, trying something new and surprising myself has been a vital constant factor in my life. Naturally, you always have to first step back and see that what you want to do really is within your grasp, and that you really do want to do it. But when that is the case, then you should simply go ahead and do it. And if you don’t succeed, at least you can say you’ve tried. As far as possible at the end of my life I want to avoid asking myself why I never made any use of the great opportunities that came my way. This is why I’ve always given myself the liberty to tackle something new when the right opportunity arrived, and so far have never once regretted it.
An empty canvas is a call to new discoveries
And I like people who act in the same way. To some extent an artist must “begin afresh” with every new picture. Some artists might paint whole series yet again and again each empty canvas calls up something new. This is what I’ve seen personally in living together with OUBEY for over twenty one years. If OUBEY hadn’t been ready and capable of continually striking out in new directions as an artist, the body of work that he left behind would never have been as interesting and wide ranging as it is and would certainly never now fascinate and thrill such a great number of people across the whole globe. Each answer for OUBEY only called forth the next question. Nearly all people have this attitude during childhood. Only when they grow up they tend to shed it because they believe they know all the answers – at least the most important ones. This is an error because nobody ever knows all the answers. Wonder and discovery are just as important as knowledge.
Seeing with the heart
And so it is that a certain Ludmilla Larusso on The Voice of Germany managed to bring the enthusiastic audience to its feet and the attentive coaches as well. Perhaps it helped her that in this show they sit with their backs to the stage and cannot see how old or young, big or little, fat or thin, pretty or less pretty a candidate is. They don’t know what this person looks like, they just hear the song. And Ludmilla touched people’s hearts with her song. It’s a wonderful example of how right Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was when he once said “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly”.
Age is not the result of adding up the years. Age is a question of vigour, openness and curiosity – in the heart and in the mind. There is always still time to learn, experience, and discover something new. Curiosity is an elixir that creates zest for life and by so doing keeps you young.